Never mind the blowout numbers announced Tuesday. Apple's best days are behind it. Or so says Forrester Research CEO George Colony, who believes the iPhone and iPad maker without Steve Jobs is essentially rudderless, a company sailing downwind toward mediocrity. As Colony sees it, the problem with Apple is that, well, Jobs is dead.
Apple's co-founder, as we all know, was a charismatic guy. Jobs had an uncanny ability to lure disciples, some of whom saw him as a guru-like figure with exceptional--perhaps even enchanted--powers. This was a carefully cultivated image that Jobs himself worked hard to achieve and maintain.
Jobs also had amazing instincts when it came to product design and usability. He knew what consumers wanted and how to deliver it.
Which brings us to Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO. Colony calls Jobs' replacement a "proven and competent executive," but one who lacks the magnetism to a lead a unique company like Apple.
In an April 25 post on his Forrester blog, Colony writes:
"Apple's momentum will carry it for 24-48 months. But without the arrival of a new charismatic leader it will move from being a great company to being a good company, with a commensurate step down in revenue growth and product innovation. Like Sony (post Morita), Polaroid (post Land), Apple circa 1985 (post Jobs), and Disney (in the 20 years post Walt Disney), Apple will coast, and then decelerate."
Fighting words, indeed. There's little doubt Colony will be pilloried by the loony fringe of Apple's user base for his heretical beliefs.
Well, if Cook isn't the best choice to run Apple, who is?
"Without knowing them personally, I would look to Apple executives Jon Ive or Scott Forstall to be CEO," writes Colony. "From on far they appear to have some of the charisma and outspoken design sense to legitimately lead the company."
Well, perhaps, but whoever runs Apple from here on out will always be compared--most likely unfavorably--to Jobs, whose second run as CEO was arguably more astonishing than his first.
It seems the biggest problem facing Apple's management team today is: What do we do next? The iPhone and iPad are largely responsible for Apple's current success, but both product lines will likely grow stale within 4 to 5 years. This isn't a knock against Apple, but rather an observation based on the history of consumer tech (see: BlackBerry).
As Colony sees it, Apple is a "charismatic organization" that cannot thrive without its founder and leader.
Is Cook a creative genius like Jobs? He doesn't appear to be, but no one had that expectation.
Will the rumored HDTV be Apple's Next Great Thing? And after that, then what?
Apple in a way reminds me of a famous musical group that keeps churning out hit after hit. Eventually the songs fall flat. Creativity fades. In Apple's case, I'm not sure you can pin that inevitability on Tim Cook.